Monday, August 22, 2011

Runes 101 - Runes in Mythology 5

I am very excited that, in a few days, I will add three new books to my Norse Mythology library that were recommended by people who have read my blog and the books are all about the Runes.  I look forward to the added insight they may provide me about the Runes.  I admit that I am a relative newcomer to the world of Runes, but I am cautious and careful with the things I say about them and, especially, when I 'read' them.

That brings me to this week's post.  A few years ago, I bought a book of Norse myths, which I have read and, many myths I have reread several times.  Each time, I notice some new aspect about them and, most recently, I have noticed a couple of uses of Runes that I questioned.  You see, because I am limited to the English translations of the Prose and Poetic Edda, I have learned the importance of cross-checking questionable terms in particular.

One of the myths in this book of Norse myths is The Lay of Vafthrudnir.  In this myth, Odin, who is always seeking knowledge, goes to visit the giant Vafthrudnir, because he hears this giant has no equal among the other giants.  Odin wants to challenge him to a battle of wits.  In the end, he tricks the giant to win the contest by asking him a question he cannot possibly answer.  However, when Odin asks the giant how he knows so much about the gods, this author translates or implies that Vafthrudnir can read the Runes.  He suggests that Odin recognizes this ability in Vafthrudnir and that Vafthrudnir concurs and says that he can, in fact, read the Runes of the gods and giants.  Reading this now, as opposed to almost two years ago when I understood little about the Runes, I halt.  The more appropriate term, in my opinion, is that he knows the fates of the gods and giants.  I have two versions of the Poetic Edda, so I checked both books and neither gives any indication of the giant claiming to know the Runes.  I could be wrong on this, but what I am saying is that the use of the term "Runes" in this instant seemed out of place.  I happily welcome clarification of this point in the story.

The second instance is the myth of Idunn and her apples and how Loki tricked her into leaving Asgard so that the giant Thjazi, in his eagle's cloak, could capture her.  Of course, Loki did this to save his own life.  Once the gods realize what's happened, they threaten Loki with torture and death if he doesn't find Idunn and her apples and bring them back.  You see, without Idunn's apples, the gods begin to grow old.  Loki uses Freyja's falcon cloak to travel to Thjazi's hall in Jotunheim and get Idunn and bring her back to Asgard.  He transform her into a nut so that he can carry her easily in his claws.  Thjazi chases Loki back to Asgard in his eagle suit.  When Loki lands safely within the walls of Asgard, he transforms Idunn back into herself.  Here's the part that seems wrong to me.  When Loki transforms Idunn into a nut, the author says that "Loki murmurs the Runes, says the magic words".  When he transforms her back into herself, the author says that Loki "softly spoke the Runes".  This stood out to me as I have found no other indication that Loki knows the Runes.  When I checked my copy of the Prose Edda (Skaldskaparmal), all it says is that Loki turned Idunn into a nut.  Obviously, she was turned back int o herself, but there is no mention of that at all in the actual prose and no mention of Runes.  That Loki possessed some sort of magic there is no doubt, but the Runes?  I say no.

Am I wrong about these instances?  Or am I on the right track?

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